clothes, clothes, clothes

Last week, I finished reading Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. It’d been on my to-read list for a little while and I’d read two excerpts online that had me hooked and thinking more consciously about the kinds of clothes I buy.

Prior to reading the book, I’d already been on a mission to reduce the size of my wardrobe, in line with wanting to lead a less cluttered lifestyle. In the past two years, I’ve sold or donated at least 200 items of clothing (mostly the latter). Sometime last fall, I decided that I wanted to try to keep the number of pieces in my wardrobe to approximately 100, excluding underwear, socks, pajamas, outerwear, footwear and accessories. There was no particular reason for that number, just an arbitrary round number. Two weeks ago, while repacking my clothes to be shipped, I pleasantly discovered that I actually did reach my goal — I’ve got just under 100 at the moment.

However, after having read Overdressed, I decided that 100 was still too many. The reason for this lies in the quality of the clothes I do have. The book highlighted the fact that the quality of clothes has deteriorated in the past fifty years or so. Much of this has to do with the outsourcing of clothing manufacture to third world countries due to cheaper costs. The current frenzied turnover of trends has clothing companies scrambling to make massive volumes of cheap clothing to appeal to the masses, which can be easily achieved by booming factories in countries like China and India. The result is the mass purchase of cheap clothing that is trendy (versus timeless), isn’t very well-made, and isn’t likely to be worn very much. None of this comes as much of a surprise. What was surprising was reading about the afterlife of cheap clothes. People often donate literally tonnes of worn and unworn clothes, thinking they’d be worn by others desperately in need (not gonna lie, I thought this too). But the truth is that way more clothes are donated than can be used or sold and much of it ends up being sold to third world countries (many of which have denizens who have learnt to be selective about the quality and brands of clothing they accept, thanks to the wonders of the Internet) or turned to rags. Who would’ve thunk?

I was at the Bloorcourt Arts and Crafts Street Fair a few weekends ago and stumbled upon the Freedom Clothing Collective. I went inside to browse, with no intention of buying anything because prices of locally made, environmentally-friendly clothing is generally out of my price range (which is really about $10-12 and under). As I was browsing, I felt the material and was duly impressed by how much thicker it was compared to the clothes you’d find in a mall. It was really the exact moment that I was sold, convinced that it makes more sense to spend my money on a few pieces of good quality locally made clothing (or really, clothing that’s had much effort put into it) than many pieces of cheaply made imported clothes that may not get as many wears as one might expect. I decided that I would better benefit from having a wardrobe like Raspberry’s — limited, but each item gets a lot of use. After all, I remember reading previously that people only really wear about 20% of their entire wardrobe anyway.

So I’ve embarked upon a mission to further shrink my wardrobe, being conscious of the materials my clothes are made from as well as where they’re made. I’ve removed the clothes that are ill-fitting or don’t get a lot of wear or those that I don’t like that much but were bought only because they were cheap. I’m not yet exactly sure what to do with the clothes I love, but are made of synthetic materials and aren’t currently in the best condition (mostly, they’re pilling). I’ve managed to reduce my dresses from a ridiculous thirty-one to twenty-four, but I still think that’s a bit too much and will aim to get them down to twenty if possible, and soon I’ll work on trying to get have fewer pairs jeans. A few months ago, I’d already decided that I was going to minimize the number of pairs of shoes I have (not that I’ve ever been a shoe person) — I’d have a pair a Converse, a pair of runners, a pair of sandals/flip-flops, a pair of boots and a pair of flats. I’d also decided that I’d start investing in good shoes, not cheap poorly-made pairs that cost less than $10. So far, I’ve merely just given away some shoes but haven’t yet bought a good pair of shoes (although I’ve been looking at a particular pair of rain boots for a while).

Right now, my overarching plan is to not buy cheap clothes (or at the moment, any clothes) and eventually, my next clothing purchase shall be something I really, really, really like and will be well-made (hopefully locally-made too) and will very likely be way out of my current price range but by then I’ll have fewer clothes and each item of clothing will get much more wear. Of course, it’ll be jarring to go from paying less than ten dollars for a dress to much more, but I think it’ll be worth it for everyone involved. I’m excited, not only to reduce the size of my wardrobe and bring it more in line with my values, but also to see the kinds of better-made clothes that are available (I’ve occasionally browsed such clothes but never actively). Anyhow, I’m going to drop off a pile of clothes to be donated this week so that I can visualize the contents of my wardrobe more clearly and that’ll help me figure out what else I ought to get rid of. Looking forward to it.

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2 responses

  1. I hear ya. I just keep buying items but I’ve also been giving away a few here and there.

    A few years ago, I invested in a $70 pair of flats and they’re still going pretty strong. Same with my boots. It really does help to have better quality, albeit more expensive, items. And for footwear, they’re not totally bad support-wise!

    September 6, 2012 at 4:20 am

  2. I was doing that too, buying and giving stuff away. Packing helped me realize that I had way too much, especially clothes that I didn’t even like that much and clothes that didn’t fit very well.

    I was always unsure about spending that much on flats, but I do believe that you get what you pay for and more expensive shoes are probably better support-wise too. I’ve been wearing $3 Old Navy flats for a few summers now (I had a grey pair and I wore out the heels; this summer I’m wearing black and I still have a blue and a pink pair and I’m not sure if I should just give them away and invest in *one* good pair of flats or just wear them). What material are your good flats made from? Where did you get your flats?

    September 6, 2012 at 8:42 pm

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